The capital of Russia is an exciting, sparkling city which attracts visitors from all over the world. It’s a city of contrasts, where Soviet architecture mixes with fancy shops, and old Ladas and kitschy Bentleys drown in chaotic traffic. Moscow is a mixture of Asia and Europe, a quintessential combination of democracy and Soviet heritage. The city’s numerous sights, vibrant nightlife and relaxing green parks make it a wonderful holiday destination.
Moscow did not become the capital of Russia straight away. It was one of the largest cities in Russia, founded in the middle of the 12th century. Moscow is usually associated with Grand Duke Yury Dolgoruky, who decided to build a fortress on the site of an ancient settlement. Historians still argue about the exact date of the founding of the city. Some believe it was 1147, while others state 1156. However, the first time Moscow was mentioned in historical documents was 1147. It became the country’s capital in the 16th century. A large settlement in the area where modern Moscow stands appeared before the founding of the city. Archaeologists discovered several cemeteries which date back to the 7th century BC. There is evidence that the Finno-Ugric tribes and the Slavs, Vyatichi and Krivichi, lived there. These places were often associated with the Moscow River, which Balts or Slavs called “mosk”, which means swamp.
During the Middle Ages, Moscow was constantly under attack. After the death of Dolgoruky, the city was governed by Yuri Vsevolodovich and then Vladimir Yurevich until the Mongol-Tatar invasion in the 13th century. During this period, the Mongol-Tatars completely destroyed and burned the city. For a long time, the Russians had to pay tribute to the Golden Horde. Ivan Kalita (1288-1340) did a lot for the construction of the city. He built the first stone buildings: churches, cathedrals and fortress walls. A year before his death, he surrounded the Moscow Kremlin with new fortified walls.
His heirs continued to strengthen Moscow. At the same time, the process of the unification of Russia was ongoing. Tsar Ivan III refused to pay tribute to the Horde. In 1547, with the advent of Ivan IV, known as Ivan the Terrible, Moscow became the capital of the country until 1712. The religious significance of the city grew as well. After the fall of Constantinople in the middle of the 15th century, the Russian church began to develop as an independent organisation.
During the 16th-18th centuries, Moscow survived wars with the Poles and Tatar khans. In 1612, the troops under Minin and Pozharsky repulsed the Poles from Moscow. At the beginning of the 18th century, St Petersburg became the capital. During the Patriotic War of 1812, the city was occupied by French troops and destroyed by fire. The status of capital was returned to Moscow in 1918 after the formation of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic).
Where to Stay
When it comes to finding good accommodation, Moscow offers a wide range of options, from cheap hostels to the luxury Four Seasons next to Red Square and the Kremlin. If you like the hustle and bustle of a big city and visiting museums and theatres, the city centre is your best bet. Have a look at the National Hotel, Hotel Nikolsky Red Square, or Hostel ONE Kuznetsky Most. If you prefer a quiet location with a park, opt instead for the Ostankinsky District (Tourist Econom Hotel) or Khamovniki (Blues Hotel, Zodiak Boutique Hotel). Some hotels may seem overpriced, but sometimes they offer really good deals.
Bars and Restaurants
While you are in Moscow, you’ll never go hungry, as the city can offer various types of cuisine to meet your every need. Here you’ll find Moroccan, Japanese, Chinese and European dishes, from sushi and pasta to Portuguese Pastel de nata and spicy Taquito. Don’t miss panoramic restaurants with heart-stopping views over the city: White Rabbit, Kalina Bar, Sky Lounge and Carlson. To try some local cuisine, visit Grand Café Dr Zhivago, Mari Vanna or Matreshka. You can choose borshch, a traditional beet soup, syrniki (fried quark pancakes), Olivier salad and pelmeni (Russian dumplings). The best cocktail bars are Mendeleev Bar, Luch and Simachev Bar.
What to See
- Let’s start exploring the city with Red Square and the Kremlin. The Moscow Kremlin is a historical, cultural and religious complex in the centre of the city, an ancient fortress with a unique ensemble of monuments which are UNESCO heritage sites, as well as the official residence of the Russian president. The Kremlin is located on the left bank of the Moskva River, on Borovitsky Hill. The Kremlin covers an area of 27.5 hectares.
- St Basil’s Cathedral is the most famous Orthodox Church and one of the main attractions on Red Square, protected by UNESCO. The building is 65 metres high.
- For art lovers, the Tretyakov Gallery with its enormous collection of paintings is a must-see. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is another large museum consisting of three buildings. Here, you will find masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age, works of ancient civilisations, Russian paintings and Orthodox icons.
- If you travel with kids, spend a day at Moscow Zoo. It was founded in 1864 and is home to more than 8000 species, including rare and exotic animals.
- Arbat is an elegant promenade with lots of cafes, restaurants, musical performers and souvenir shops.
- If you need a rest, head for one of the city’s parks, like Gorky Park or VDNKh. Here you can attend yoga and fitness classes, rent a bike or segway, or take a river trip. In winter, these parks turn into large skating rinks.
- Tsaritsyno is a former summer residence of Catherine the Great. It’s a lovely place with gardens, a singing fountain, beautifully decorated buildings and ponds with ducks and swans.
- The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a remarkable site on the bank of the Moskva River. The snow-white cathedral with its golden dome was destroyed by the Soviet authorities and then rebuilt in the 1990s.
- Ostankino TV Tower is the tallest building in Moscow. Don’t forget to visit its observation deck with glass floor. You will be fascinated by the breathtaking views over the city.
- Novodevichy Convent was founded in 1524. Many women from noble families lived and were buried here. There is a lovely pond and a small park nearby.
- Kolomenskoe with its ancient churches and apple gardens is another must-see for any visitor. Here, you can see what a medieval city looked like. It was a favourite place of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich.
- If you want to see the modern side of the city, visit Moscow City, the business district with its sparkling skyscrapers and two panoramic restaurants, Ruski and Sixty.
Moscow’s transport network is really extensive. There are three major airports (Domodedovo, Vnukovo and Sheremetievo), Schyolkovsky Bus Terminal and nine railway stations. Visitors can also use the metro, buses, trolley-buses or taxis. Most train schedules are available online. The easiest and cheapest way to get from the airport to the city centre is the Aeroexpress train (approximately 40 minutes). You can also use Uber or the airport taxi desk. There is no need to worry about the language, as most drivers speak basic English, and taxi services offer customer support. Moscow can boast a few large parks (Sokolniki, Gorky, VDNKh), so don’t miss the chance to rent a bike there. Some central streets have cycle paths.